Smartphones have long featured cameras which can capture stunning images of the world around us, but their use isn’t limited to photography. Many apps also use a phone’s GPS signal to locate the device and provide a variety of information about the surrounding area.
Putting these two elements of smartphone technology together, many innovative developers have cottoned-on to the idea that a phone’s camera can be used to provide a real time display of what it is seeing that can then be overlaid with extra information, creating what has become known as ‘augmented reality’.
We’ve taken a look at some of the best augmented reality apps currently available, from those that perform one simple task to those that are capable of much, much more.
Smartphones can certainly help with shopping, whether it’s browsing through retailers’ bespoke apps, scanning barcodes and QR codes that you find in shops, or simply taking photos of things to make up your mind later.
SnapShop brings some of these ideas together, allowing you to bring virtual versions of leading furniture designs straight into your home. The app uses the phone’s camera to create a real-time view of whatever you point it at and then superimposes an image of a furniture item over it, with a huge range of chairs, sofas, beds and other such things available.
The virtual furniture can then be rotated and resized to fit the room, helping you to avoid those awkward moments when realise you’ve made a bad purchase. Available for iOS.
Plain and simple, this AR app does one thing and does it well. To avoid spending ages walking up and down car parks or taking wrong turns down side streets, this app allows users to mark where you left your vehicle and find your way back to it easily.
Choosing from varying degrees of accuracy, simply set the location as you park up and the app will direct you back to it later, overlaying the phone’s display with a large, green target-like icon that you can follow as you walk.
Despite Car Finder’s name, we don’t see any reason why it should be limited just to finding your way back to where you are parked and we’re sure there could be plenty of other uses for it and is great way of simply retracing your steps whenever you need to. Available for iOS.
Google Goggles offers a way of searching for information using a visual image rather than simply typing it into the search engine. After taking a picture, the app can scan the image for words and details which it then runs through Google before bringing up a select few results.
The app’s recognition capabilities are quite impressive, with it being able to read text well and recognise logos and trademarks. Famous landmarks can also be identified, along with images of famous people. While more accurate searches can be undertaken by using the traditional Google search engine, the app is certainly fun to use and could well be handy for travellers visiting unfamiliar places. Available for Android.
Augment merges 3D modelling and augmented reality, using a smartphone as a handy vehicle for showing off virtual creations.
After printing out what is called an Augmented Reality Marker from the developer’s website and placing it on a desk the app can then be used to show a 3D object superimposed on your surroundings. The AR Marker keeps the model in place allowing the user to move the phone around the model and view it from different angles.
While original designs can be created and imported into the app there is a range of pre-installed models included. While we have little doubt that Augment has genuine, practical uses amongst designers it is also a great deal of fun to project a model of the Eiffel Tower or a miniature Darth Vader on to the desk in front of you. Available for iOS and Android.
Layar takes the idea behind location-based apps such as AroundMe and brings it into the realms of augmented reality, adding levels of detail rarely seen on apps of this nature. The basic idea of Layar is that users can superimpose ‘geo-layers’ onto their phone’s display which point towards a variety of things within the surrounding environment.
What sets Layar apart from many other location-based and augmented reality apps is the degree of information it offers. Along with practical everyday things such as the location of shops and restaurants it can also be configured to bring up YouTube videos that have been filmed near to your location, tweets that have been posted from where you are and, our favourite, details of crimes that have been reported nearby.
While there are a variety of apps that offer services of this kind, Layar stands out from the pack by pulling so many of them into one place. The app succeeds in both providing both essential information that might otherwise be hard to find, and a fun and easy way to learn a little more about your current environs. Available for iOS and Android.